Favorite Albums 2012 || 20 – 11
20. Woods – Bend Beyond
Over the last 5 years the band Woods have become (kind of by their own will) the leaders of a very delectable psych-folk scene emerging out of the United States. Over the last two or three years though, Woods has really seemed to have found their stride. When they’re not running their own record label: Woodsist, and when they’re not throwing their own 2 day music festival in Big Sur called Woodist Festival, Woods are blending their version of bedroom folk rock with euphoric tripped out jams. But this isn’t your typical jam band — their music never seems to steer too far from home and never gets too “noodley,” leaving the listener feeling as if they’re somewhat in control of the music at hand. Get ready for a perfect blend of old and new, familiar and strange, when listening to Woods’ Bend Beyond.
**On a side note, part of what helped me recognize this as such a great record of 2012, is that I had the pleasure of attending Woods’ S.F. show back in August, which inevitably became one my favorite live shows of the year. Now, every time I put on this record it takes me right back into that mental and physical state Woods curated that night.
19. Bob Dylan – The Tempest
A lot of old farts put out some really great records this year – Neil Young put out two blustering rock and roll records with his band Crazy Horse; Leonard Cohen released his inspiring and elegant 12th studio album Bad Idea’s, and The Boss, well, he was The Boss in 2012 – but the album that affected me the most was Bob Dylan’s The Tempest, an album that played like an Americana myth alive and present right there in my living room, like a dusted off book with chapters in it that have never been read. Bob Dylan’s narrative is already at legend status. It’s like he’s already a story from another time…but the amazing thing is, Bob Dylan is living, breathing, touring (for better or for worse) and creating masterpieces, like The Tempest, right under our very noses.
18. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
I wouldn’t say this album was my biggest surprise of the year, because all of Sharon’s pervious works (especially Epic) have been extravagant pieces of art; but it was the way this album grew on me throughout the year that was unforeseen and left a significant impact on me by the time I was compiling this list. It’s works that can grow on you and never tire that allow us to carry a unique form of admiration that doesn’t come from listening to whatever the flavor of the month is. It’s like… Is Shawshank Redemption really my favorite movie ever? Not even close. But the fact that I can sit there and watch it over and over, just like I can listen to Tramp over and over again, that makes it deserve such merit. Not to mention Van Etten’s growth as a musician is fully illustrated on this record. Etten, who was once a soft quiet indie folkstress, is now a powerfully voiced rocker who dances with tingling electric guitars and pounding drum movements and is someone who is only showing signs of developing further.
17. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
While I’ve been a fan of Godspeed You! Black Emperor for a little bit now, it wasn’t until I saw them take their ambient experimental post rock sound and execute it in a live setting that I became a full on worshiper. Their latest record titled Allelujah! Dont Bend! Ascend!, their first in 10 years, is only four tracks – two of them running 20 minutes in length and two on them running 6 min and 30 seconds – But within those four tracks is an unprecedented world of gorgeous distortion, riveting guitar riffs and compelling experimentation. It’s after an enlightening experience of listening to Godspeed, you think to yourself, how could I ever go back to listening “normal” music?
Spotify: Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Vinyl: Click Here
Key Track: “We Drift Like Worried Fire”
16. Exitmusic – The Passage
More than any other album this year, Exitmusic’s The Passage played like a movie to me. Not that it was filled with skits or it was like a rock opera or anything, but it was an album that I could literally sit there with, blind folded, and listen to every moment, every movement, every breath taken inside this record. The more you listen to The Passage, the more you become engrossed with every distorted twist and every hazy note. While the music isn’t intense on paper, the chillingly beautiful emotion you feel when listening to The Passage as a whole is quite intense. This album is perfect for those late nights when you are looking to be transported into a powerfully temperate musical climate without ever losing yourself too much…
15. Tame Impala – Lonerism
I wouldn’t say there was a crazy amount of anticipation leading into Tame Impala’s sophomore release Lonerism, but once the album did hit, it felt like the psyched out Aussies had been a part of our musical world for quite a long time. With just enough classic rock fuzz floating through this record, reminiscent of T-Rex, it gave listeners, young and old, the ability to connect with it right off the bat. But it was its contemporary garnishes that made this record distinctively 2012. No matter if you’re huddled around your bong in a dorm room or you’re a dad in his mini van who loves to rock out, this record is made for you.
14. Matthew E. White – Big Inner
Matthew E. White’s love and admiration for anything and everything Randy Newman isn’t hiding on his debut album called the The Big Inner. In fact, White was so inspired by Newman that he went so far as finding out where Randy Newman was living in Los Angeles and pawned off some demo tapes on him. The work illustrated inside The Big Inner, carries the spirit that exists inside many of the early 70′s song writers & musicians work – it’s literate, it’s jazzy, it’s psychedelic, it’s soulful and it’s poetic country – there are stories so gracefully told that you find yourself imagining White more as an energy, a warmth or an animated character than just guy who knows how to write a good song. Big Inner is one of the most impressive debuts of the year, giving us music lovers hope that another iconic musician is just right around the corner.
13. Chilly Gonzales – Solo Piano II
Chilly Gonzales, a long time collaborator with the likes of Feist, Drake, Peaches and Jamie Lidell, is an artist who’ll often step out from behind the scenes and put himself in the spotlight. If you dig through his catalog, you’ll find Gonzo rapping, taking on electronic music and composing classical pieces. But my favorite work from Chilly comes when he records for his “Solo Piano” series, where all you’ll find is Chilly: his fingers and a piano. It sounds like classical pop album – almost like what you would expect a stripped down instrumental Feist album to sound like. Each original song fills you with a different unique affection and it is through the entire album you’ll have the ability to feel everything from strange sorrow to fluttering happiness.
12. Julia Holter – Ekstasis
Bedroom musicians have kinda had a field day the last couple of years. Out of thin air some stoner art kid going to Appalachian State could be making some half-assed album in their dorm room, and then the next thing you know every blog is fighting over who can call them their baby. Indie bedroom albums, like anything that becomes more available in our world, became quickly saturated in mediocrity but the music lovers’ desire for quality rapidly outweighs their desire for quantity. Luckily mediocrity is not the case when dealing with Julia Holter’s second album Ekstasis, (an album made in her bedroom.) It’s more of a full fledged art project, a creation that hits with precision from beginning to end. Just like in a great painting every stroke is meant to be, every sound on this record feels meaningful. Like many great things in the arts, it’s the ability to discover new elements upon each visit, that separate the splendid from the mundane.
11. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE
R&B and Soul music really had its golden age back in the 70′s when the likes of Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder not only made socially relevant music that touched on politically controversial issues, but they also experimented with new sonic territories that changed music forever. And here we are today – living in a musical world flooded with soul musicians singing about champagne-sponsored pool parties – and then out of nowhere, Frank Ocean emerges as a much needed voice in from out of the pop world. Now, forget that Frank Ocean bravely came out about his sexuality… Ocean’s second album Channel Orange (like Mayfield, Gaye & Wonder) is a record that pushes listeners’ limits and challenges people’s social perception, but he does it at a very comfortable level. Each one of us likes to grow and evolve into more ethically-aware humans, and Ocean has made a record that advocates that folks do just that, all the while allowing us to still get down to some good ol’ pop music.